Posts tagged ‘Fiji’

Meet the locals at Fiji’s Namale Resort

Let’s suppose for a minute that your family isn’t dysfunctional. That there is no underlying tension, that everyone delights in your presence and that the minute you walk in the door, every one of your kin lights up in a neon-bright smile.

Well, I’m here to tell you that if you go to Fiji and book one of 19 bures at Namale Resort and Spa, you’ll get that family, an always-happy, functional clan that puts Beaver Cleaver’s loved ones to shame.

Sure, this 525-acre resort on the Fijian island of Vanua Levu has five stars, made the cover of Architectural Digest and throws in all the over-the-top amenities you’ve come to expect of such showcase resorts. But the reason it stands out — I mean really stands out — is because of its open, loving, big-hearted staff.

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Every single person from the driver who picks you up at the airport to the woman who writes bula (it means “hello,” “to life” and “let’s celebrate) in pink ginger petals on your pillow makes a point of introducing him or herself, learning your name (and even remembering it, a favor I wasn’t able to return) and looking you straight in the eye.

And you feel confident that when you leave the table at the barefoot restaurant where you just had the most amazing dinner of your life that Bale, Toops and Villi (okay, I remember a few names) are NOT rolling their eyes and snickering behind your back about the way you pronounce kokoda, a delicious Fijian speciality made with mahi-mahi, limes, green chiles and, of course, coconut cream. Think what you will, but it’s not an act. It’s the Fijian way.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the amenities of this remote resort on the Koro Sea. Of Namale’s 525 acres, 200 are protected rainforest. Each of the bures (Fijian cottages) is locally handcrafted (the only power tool being a drill to anchor fittings into the lava outcroppings) with native hardwoods, floor-to-ceiling windows, thatched roof and infinity pool.

Tony Robbins, the self-help guru who turned the former coconut plantation into the five-star haven, aptly describes it as “killer plush.” It has everything from its own private waterfall to one of the best fitness centers in the South Pacific. It even has a gorgeous hardwood basketball court, a digital golf driving range and a two-lane, 10-pin bowling alley where you can bowl sans shoes.

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From the hydro-aromatherapy room of the 10,000-square-foot spa (you can’t miss it. Just look for the smiling giant Buddha out front), you can dreamily gaze out over the Koro Sea, and if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of spinner dolphins, batfish and the resort’s signature blowhole. As Robbins likes to say, “At Namale, the real you can’t help but show up.”

Here’s to hoping this is the real me. When my daughter and I arrived from the nearby tiny one-strip airport (no air traffic control, just locals shooing cows off the runway), we found our carved names (one of Namale’s many special touches) hanging from the door of the 2500-square-foot Dream House. Suffice it to say, it was bigger and far better appointed than my digs at home with outdoor showers, two pools, its own kitchen and maid quarters, a couple hot tubs and a giant projector that pulls down in front of the 200-foot windows on which we were able to watch The Bachelorette episode that was filmed there.

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That was fun, of course, to say, “Oh look, Ashley (Hebert, from Season 7) is sitting next to the same pillow I am. Wow! Doesn’t she look cute being interviewed out on our deck overlooking the ocean,” but again, the best part was meeting our gracious, content Fijian hosts.

On Sunday, we were invited to attend a church service (couldn’t understand a word, but those familiar Methodist hymns sounded even better in Fijian) in the nearby village of Vivili and the following day, we drove out to Baqata, another village in the rainforested mountains, where the chief, in an elaborate ceremony that involved pounding sun-dried kava root into a powder and straining it through what looked like an old sock, ceremoniously presented us with the milky, tongue-numbing drink in the half-shell of a coconut.

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Perhaps, Billie, our Indian airport driver, summed it up best. I asked him if he ever sat in on any of Tony’s seminars. After all, the motivational speaker/author teaches such classes as “Business Mastery” and “Life and Wealth Mastery” right on Namale grounds.

“Well,” he said, looking me in the eye, “I have listened to him speak a time or two, but really for us, where else would we ever want to go? What else would we ever want to master?”

Swimming with sharks in Fiji’s Beqa Lagoon

About the only thing more controversial right now than Mitt Romney and Bain Capital are sharks, the fright-inducing predators perched at the top of the ocean food chain. Not only did a Great White nicknamed Brutus make quick work of a 24-year-old Western Australian surfer recently, but the government of China this month, kowtowing to sign-carrying protestors in shark costumes, officially banned from state dinners shark fin soup, long considered a symbol of wealth and prestige.

As much as I support that decision (activists claim the appetite for the gelatinous soup fuels the killing of some 73 million sharks a year), I wasn’t sure I wanted to come nose to nose with a fish that has seven rows of flesh-tearing teeth. In fact, when our Fijian dive caption first announced that my daughter and I would be snorkeling Beqa Lagoon’s Shark Reef Marine Reserve, my initial reaction was to become as neurotic and overly-protective as Marlin in “Finding Nemo.”

Sure, I took appreciative glances at the sprawling sea fans, the orangutan crabs and the neon bright schools of fish that live in this 40-mile ring of reef formed from an extinct volcano crater, but I couldn’t help but nervously look back over my shoulder every time a shark whizzed by like a slingshot-launched Angry Bird.

Most of the sharks were three or four feet long, small enough to fend off with a punch to the old kisser if the need should arise, but every now and then, an 8- or 10-foot monster blacktip or silver tip swam by, rendering me into a blubbering idiot, barely more useful than Ellen DeGeneres’ Dory with her nosebleed and short-term memory loss.

I had to keep reminding myself of the dive captain’s assurance that Great Whites are not among the eight species of sharks that frequent the famed soft coral of Beqa Lagoon and that Scarface, the 18-foot tiger shark that fancies the fish attracted by the dive boat’s chum, is practically as tame as Lassie.

Shark Reef is one of nearly 100 dive sites in the 100 square miles that make up Beqa Lagoon, a diver’s paradise off the windward side of Viti Levu, the largest of Fiji’s 300 islands. The barrier reef off the western edge is one of the world’s largest and the shark sanctuary with its famed bull sharks, tawny nurse sharks, whitetip, blacktip and grey reef sharks, sicklefin lemon sharks, silvertips and tigers is as open as Kathy Lee Gifford during her Regis days. No cages. No special gear. Just you and Scarface doing water ballet.

As exhilarating as it is to swim with sharks, I have to admit I was even more jazzed when Taz and I climbed up the boat’s ladder, missing nary a limb, for our return to Royal Davui, the secluded island resort where we were staying.

The Fijian name for the lush, beach-rimmed island that makes up Royal Davui is Ugaga (don’t even try to pronounce it. The Fijian language is anything but phonetic) and, after being tossed around from tribe to tribe (one chief would give the island to another chief who would reward yet another chief for protecting his village), it was finally in 2004 turned into the Clint Eastwood of romantic resorts. That is to say Royal Davui has nabbed pretty much every award you can get (from Trip Advisor to Conde Nast) for being one of the world’s most romantic destinations.

Not only do you get the whole 10-acre island to yourself (well, you and a handful of other guests), but each of the resort’s 16 vales, perched on the edge of the island with knee-weakening views of the coral reef, is secluded and intimate. Although we, as a mother/daughter team, didn’t imbibe, honeymooners and others so romantically inclined can enjoy private meals on their balconies, midnight skinny dips in their own personal plunge pools and teams of massage therapists who happily set up tables in their spacious outdoor living room overlooking the crystal clear Pacific.

Every morning at breakfast, a joyous affair under the restaurant’s monstrous banyan tree, we were presented with the entire day’s menu and asked to plan our gastronomic day. The menu is customized daily depending on which fish and fresh produce, 90 percent of which is locally sourced (which means it comes from either Pacific Harbour or one of the 11 villages on Beqa Island), happens to be available.

Despite the ooh-la-la food and views and stunning accommodations, the best part of Royal Davui is the staff, each of whom knew us by name, willingly dropped whatever they were doing to teach us how to play Sequence, one of the resort’s many board games, and invited us to join a nightly volleyball game, known familiarly as Fiji vs. The Rest of the World. On other nights, we enjoyed crab races, coconut shows and kava ceremonies.

Turns out being stranded on an island in the middle of shark-infested waters is not a bad way to spend a vacation. Unlike Gilligan and his crew who spent three seasons hatching plans to return home, we considered hiding when the boat came to return us to Viti Levu, and will likely spend the rest of our life figuring out how to get back there.

Tale of Three Spas

Who doesn’t love a good success story? Especially when it’s the little guy who knocks down the Goliath. Early this year, bath and body products made in a tiny South Pacific country with less than a million people made the list of the world’s top 10 spa products.

Photo by Taz Grout

Yes, I’m talking Pure Fiji, whose lotions, oils and shampoos are used by such celebrities as Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet and even Eddie Murphy. Pure Fiji is not only a South Pacific success story, but it’s a shining example of what’s possible.

Gaetane Austin, who started the family-run company 12 years ago on her kitchen table in Suva, the Fijian capital, has stayed true to her principles–using only sustainable ingredients, buying from local villages, insisting on eco-friendly packaging and, in the process, promoting rural community development.

So on my recent trip to Fiji, I decided it was high time to try out some of the Pure Fiji products. But, even more importantly, to enjoy a few of the resorts and spas where the products are used.

Here’s my report from three of Fiji’s best:


Namale Resort and Spa.
The slogan for this remote resort on the Koro Sea is “Separate Yourself From the Rest of the World.” It’s no exaggeration. Of Namale’s 325 acres, 200 are protected rainforest and each of the bures (Fijian cottage) was locally handcrafted (the only power tool being a drill to anchor fittings into the lava outcroppings) with native hardwoods, floor-to-ceiling windows, thatched roof and infinity pool.

Photo by Taz Grout

Tony Robbins, the self-help guru who turned the former coconut plantation into the five-star haven, aptly describes it as “killer plush.” It has everything from its own private waterfall to one of the best fitness centers in the South Pacific. It even has a gorgeous hardwood basketball court, a digital golf driving range and a two-lane, ten-pin bowling alley where you can bowl sans shoes.

From the hydro-aromatherapy room of the 10,000-square-foot spa (you can’t miss it. Just look for the smiling giant Buddha out front), you can dreamily gaze out over the Koro Sea, and if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of spinner dolphins, batfish and the resort’s signature blowhole. As Robbins likes to say, “At Namale, the real you can’t help but show up.”

Here’s to hoping this is the real me. When my daughter and I arrived from the nearby tiny one-strip airport (no air traffic control, just locals shooing cows off the runway), we found our carved names (one of Namale’s many special touches) hanging from the door of the 2500-square foot Dream House. Suffice it to say, it was bigger and far better appointed than my digs at home with outdoor showers, two pools, its own kitchen and maid quarters, a couple hot tubs and a giant projector that pulls down in front of the 200-foot windows on which we were able to watch The Bachelorette episode that was filmed there.

The Spa in the Sky. Located on the Coral Coast’s Heavenly Hill, Bebe Spa Sanctuary offers gorgeous panoramic views of the coast and surrounding jungle from each of its seven treatments rooms. This $3 million spa, a short golf cart ride up the hill from the Outrigger on the Lagoon, offers all the traditional treatments (plus a lot of non-traditional treatments such as myoxy caviar facials and green coffee body wraps) as well as free yoga and meditation classes.

It also offers waxing, henna and Bo Derek-style braiding, a “do” seemingly chosen by all 242 tweens swimming in the resort pool. The spa’s treatment rooms, which are thankfully off-limits to kids, are suspended from the main structure and have private balconies, open-air showers and/or sunken spa baths and have won the spa’s architects kudos for innovative design.

As for the Outrigger on the Lagoon, it offers a two-page sheet of daily activities from coconut shows to free scuba diving lessons to pool aerobics and a butler who delivers free champagne and canapés to your room every night.

With seven restaurants, this five-star family resort wows in the culinary department. In fact, executive chef Shailesh Naidu was recently named president of the Fijian Chefs Association, an honor richly-deserved judging by the tableside presentation at Ivi, the resort’s most formal offering where I happened to be seated one table away from Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, the Fijian president.

Some enchanted island. Royal Davui, an exclusive, family-run island resort in Beqa Lagoon, is the Jack Nicholson of romantic resorts. That is to say it has nabbed pretty much every award you can get (from Trip Advisor to Conde Nast) for being one of the world’s most romantic destinations.


Not only do you get the whole 10-acre island to yourself (well, you and a handful of other guests), but each of the resort’s 16 vales, perched on the edge of the island with knee-weakening views of the coral reef, is secluded and intimate. You can enjoy private meals on your balcony, midnight skinny dips in your own personal plunge pool or a duo of massage therapists who will happily set up tables in your spacious outdoor living room overlooking the crystal clear Pacific.

The spa, like the island itself, is small and intimate, but it’s huge in stature and quantity of available treatments. Try the Dilo Rescue Wrap if you find yourself getting too much sun on one of the island’s sailing, kayaking, snorkeling or diving trips.

Every morning at breakfast, a joyous affair under the restaurant’s monstrous Banyan Tree, you’ll be presented with the entire day’s menu. It’s customized daily depending on which fish and fresh produce, 90 percent of which is locally sourced, happens to be available.

Despite the ooh-la-la food and views and stunning accommodations, the best part of Royal Davui is the staff, each of whom knows you by name, will drop whatever they’re doing to teach you how to play Sequence, one of the resort’s many board games, and will invite you to a nightly volleyball game, known familiarly as Fiji vs. The Rest of the World.

Unlike Gilligan and his crew, you will not want to leave Royal Davui’s Ugaga Island (don’t even try to pronounce it. The Fijian language is anything but phonetic) and will spend the rest of your life figuring out how to get back there.

Flights to Fiji are available on Air Pacific.

Tony Robbins’ Namale Resort Mends Broken Hearts

Getting rejected by Brad Womack on the 15th season of The Bachelor may have been the best thing to ever happen to Ashley Hebert.

Not only did she get her own show (Season 7 of The Bachelorette), but she was able to invite suitors to a 3000-square-foot villa at Fiji’s ever-amazing Namale Resort and Spa. And she’s not the only celeb to have had her name carved into a huge piece of wood at this luxury resort in Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island.

Russell Crowe, Donna Karan, Meg Ryan, Edward Norton and Tom Selleck are just a few stars whose names have been carved and hung from the doorway of a Namale bure, just one of many special touches guests can expect at this remote getaway on the Koro Sea.

Namale is owned by motivational speaker/author Tony Robbins, himself a bit of a household name, and has everything from its own private waterfall to one of the best fitness centers in the South Pacific. It even has a bowling alley where you can bowl barefoot.

Namale’s slogan, “Separate Yourself from the Rest of the World” is no exaggeration. It has 325 acres, 200 of which are protected rainforest, and only 19 bures and villas. That means you pretty much have the place to yourself. Each bure (Fijian cottage) has a thatched roof, Fijian hardwood floors, floor-to-ceiling windows, infinity pools and hanging beds.

As remote as it is, there’s plenty to do at this five-star resort from horseback riding and picnics at the waterfall to couples massage and yoga classes at the 10,000-square foot spa.

But perhaps my favorite feature, besides the fact that Tony provides scholarships for the kids of all employees, are the stones each guest receive. When a guests checks out, he or she is invited to carve a note into the stone, a memory will stay on this property in paradise forever.